I Want to Feel More
James Smith, 1860
We often meet with people who . . .
from their knowledge of divine things,
from the spirit they manifest, and
the line of conduct they pursue —
give us good reason to believe that they are born of God. But they are afraid to profess faith in Christ. They dare not conclude that they are the children of God. They nurse their doubts and fears, are generally sad and dejected, and the further they go, the more dissatisfied they are.
Their general complaint is about their feelings. They do not feel aright, or they do not feel enough, or they do not feel as the Lord's people do. Hence they often say, "I want to feel more, and then I shall be encouraged." In this state they try to produce the feelings they wish — but cannot. They have often tried to work themselves up into the state in which they desire to be — but have failed. If they read a good book, or if they are hearing the gospel, they are almost always looking after the feelings they think so desirable; and because they do not find them, they yield to discouragement and sink into gloom. I am afraid there is a good deal of self in this, and that God's glory is overlooked. However, I should like to be of use to such sad and discouraged ones, and will try (may the Holy Spirit graciously assist me) to write a few lines with a view to do them good.
Friend, your feelings will be regulated by your faith — but it is wrong to try to regulate your faith by your feelings. If you believe aright — you will feel aright. If, for instance, you believe that God is love — that, of his own pure love, he sent his Son into the world to save sinners, and that he is prepared, on the ground of what his Son has done, to save any sinner and every sinner who wishes to be saved, and is willing to be saved in God's own way — then you will feel aright towards him. If you only believe that he is willing to save you — to save you just as you are — to save you at this very moment — to save you for the sake of his own glory alone; and that if you trust solely on what Christ has done for sinners, you are saved — this will produce a great change in your feelings.
But if you want to feel first, and then to believe that God will save you, this is very much like believing that God will save you because you feel; whereas God saves you of mere grace, on the ground of what Christ has done, irrespective of your feelings.
"But if I feel cold, dead, hard and stupid — can I be saved in such a state?" Yes, if you believe in Jesus — and as soon as you actually believe in him, as he is set before you in the gospel, your feelings will begin to change and your heart will grow warm with love, and throb with life, and soften into penitence, and be deeply interested in all good things.
"But would it be right for one like me — for one feeling as I do, to believe that God will save me?" Yes, if you depend on Christ alone. Not only will it be right — but you cannot do otherwise without sin; for if you believe not God, you make him a liar; and he has solemnly and repeatedly declared in his word, that whoever believes shall be saved.
"But such an one as I?" Yes, such an one as you.
"All, sir, I am afraid you don't know what I am, how I feel, or what a sinner I have been." I do not care what you are, what you feel, or what kind of a sinner you have been. God is willing to save you, and if you put your trust in Jesus, and rely on what he has done and suffered, he is pledged by his own word to save you. And not only so — but as soon as you give God credit for speaking the truth, place confidence in his word, and resign yourself to him to be saved by his grace — you will experience a wonderful change in your feelings. But everything must be given up, every other refuge must be left, every other ground of confidence must be forsaken — and you must venture on Christ alone. And as soon as you do this, your feelings will undergo a change, and the very change you desire.
Endeavor then to take your eye off your feelings, and fix it on Christ . . .
on Christ as dying for sins,
on Christ as wounded for transgressions, as bruised for iniquities,
on Christ as having borne, in his own body on the tree, the sins of all who come to him,
on Christ as dying, the just for the unjust, that he might bring them unto God.
I am sadly afraid that many seekers put their feelings in the place of Christ, and look at their feelings instead of looking only to Christ, and that it is this which keeps them in bondage, under a sense of guilt, and full of fears.
Think, therefore, of Christ more — and of your own feelings less. Read the Word of God more, especially the New Testament, and let that alone be your standard; for many people set up a standard of their own — but God will not work by it. They cannot reach it, and God will not enable them to do so. God has marked out his own way, and that way is Christ alone. God has laid down his own terms, and those terms are, that man is to be nothing, and Christ all in all; that we are to be saved not by what we do — but by what Christ did; not by what we feel — but by what Christ felt when he suffered and died in our stead.
Honor the Holy Spirit more, by daily realizing that all right feelings, and all right actions, must be produced by him. As God has promised to give his Holy Spirit unto those who ask him, go with all the simplicity of a child going to a father, and ask for that Spirit to work in you to will and to do of his good pleasure.
And then, while you do this, be active in God's service. Do what you can for his cause. Many a discouraged one, who seemed to seek God's blessing in vain in the prayer-closet, and even under the preaching of the word, has enjoyed God's presence while trying to do some little good to others. He meets those who work righteousness, and enables them to rejoice in his ways.
If, then, you would be happy in the Lord — if you would rejoice in Christ Jesus, take heed that you do not put your feelings in the place of Christ, or look to your feelings instead of Christ; for God is jealous of the honor of his Son; and the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to glorify Christ, will not witness to your adoption or give you comfort. if you put comfort where Christ alone ought to be.
Take care, too, lest you think more of comfortable feelings than of holiness; for holiness is of more consequence than comfort. Holiness is likeness to Christ. He was not always full of comfort, for he was the "Man of sorrows;" but he was always holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.
Beware, too, lest you look at your feelings instead of looking at God's grace. "By grace you are saved." Grace is God's free and merited favor; and by free and unmerited favor, he saves sinners. Look more at what God is, as revealed in Jesus — than at what you are in yourself. Look more at what God has said in his Word, than at what you feel in yourself. Look more at what Christ has done to save sinners, than at what you have done to dishonor God. For it is only as your eye is taken off yourself, and fixed upon God's Word, God's character, and God's Son — that you will enjoy peace, feel happy, or experience rest of soul.
It is the object on which the eye is fixed, that affects the mind; if, therefore, your eye is fixed on the finished work of Jesus, God's free grace, and the promises, invitations, and assurances of his holy Word — you will soon find your fears vanish, your doubts depart, and your despondency die away; and, instead of these, you will enjoy confidence in God, satisfaction in Christ, and rest in the Divine testimony.
"But I can't repent." Can't you? Perhaps you have repented already. The question is, What is it to repent? Are you sure that you understand this? You may have made a mistake upon this point. When God commands you to repent, he commends you to change your mind. You have had wrong thoughts of God, wrong feelings towards God, and have pursued a wrong course of conduct in reference to God. Now if this is the case, of course you ought to repent; for you ought not to indulge wrong thoughts of God, or wrong feelings towards God, nor should you act contrary to God.
"But how am I to repent?" Not by some mighty effort of the mind — but by turning to God, by taking his own representations of himself as contained in his Word, by receiving his thoughts, by embracing his promises, and resting upon his love, as manifested in Christ.
Now, if you take God's word as you find it, and believe that he is good, ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all who call upon him, so that he wills not the death of a sinner; that he has no pleasure in punishing his creatures; that he has offered up the greatest possible sacrifice in giving his beloved Son to die in the stead of sinners, in order that they maybe saved easily, honorably, and eternally; that he waits to he gracious, and delights to show mercy; and if you look to God to subdue the enmity of your heart, and make you love and serve him — the result of this will be, that your feeling toward God will change, you will be sorry that you have sinned against him, will earnestly desire to be reconciled to him, and, above all things, to please him. This will lead to newness of life, and you will live soberly, righteously, and godly, in the present world.
It is of no use trying to repent, in your sense of the word, while you indulge hard thoughts of God, or imagine that he would rather punish you than have mercy on you, or that he would rather send you to Hell for your sins — than save you and take you to Heaven, through the work and sacrifice of his beloved Son. Unless you believe God to be love, you will never love him. Unless you believe him to be plenteous in mercy and full of compassion toward you, you will never be sorry for your sins, or feel your heart melt in gratitude, humility, and thankfulness before him.
To conclude then: if you wish to feel as Christians should feel, give up trying to feel so, give up looking to your feelings; and pray that the Holy Spirit may fix your eye on Jesus, his person, his work, and his love, enabling you to receive into your heart his invitations, and promises, and the positive assurances of his favor. Give up complaining that you cannot repent, cannot believe, cannot pray, cannot do as Christians do; for all this proceeds from one cause — looking to self, instead of looking to Christ!
Apart from Christ, without Christ, looking to other things beside Christ, you can do nothing — you are absolute weakness; but through Christ you can do all things. If the mind is taken up with . . .
Christ, as the highest expression of God's love,
his blood, as cleansing from all sin,
his righteousness, as justifying from all things,
and with his Spirit, as helping our infirmities —
then God's power will rest on you, you will repent, you will believe, you will pray, you will perform good works — for God will work in you to will and to do of his good pleasure. You must look away from self, to Christ!
You must accept of Christ as a perfect Savior. You must live out of self, and upon Christ, and look to him for all you need and desire. You must take Christ to be your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption; and expect to be complete in him. Do this, and be happy. Do anything else, and happy you cannot be.